Belfast City Council slammed by unionists as Irish language officer appointed

Belfast City Hall.
Belfast City Hall.

The Irish language should be afforded equality, not superiority, a Belfast City councillor has said.

UUP alderman Chris McGimpsey spoke out yesterday after the appointment of the local authority’s first dedicated Irish language officer was confirmed at an event in City Hall hosted by Conradh na Gaeilge – the forum for the Irish-speaking community.

The council has also appointed a second officer, who has responsibility for Ulster-Scots, sign language and other minority languages.

The posts are funded by the council and cross-border languages body, Foras na Gaeilge.

Unionist councillors had proposed that one officer be appointed to cover all minority languages, but that was rejected by members of Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Alliance Party during a council vote in October 2017.

Still disappointed that the council would appoint an Irish language officer and “another for the also rans”, Ulster Unionist Mr McGimpsey said: “It (the Irish language) needs to be given equality, not superiority. It’s not a good image and it makes it look like the only one the council is really serious about is Irish.”

His party colleague, alderman David Browne described the council’s differing approach to Irish and other minority languages as “absolutely disgraceful”.

“I don’t know how it ever got through a proper equality impact assessment. Studies have shown that there are more people here who speak Chinese Mandarin, more speak Polish, yet they went ahead with this for the Irish language, it’s blatant.”

Alderman Browne said the ratepayers of the city shouldn’t have to foot the bill for people learning to speak any minority language, including Irish and Ulster-Scots.

DUP alderman Tom Haire added: “We would have preferred if there had been one language officer to cover all languages, including the likes of Ulster-Scots.”

Meanwhile, yesterday’s event saw Conradh na Gaeilge and the Committee for the Administration of Justice launch an audit of local council compliance with a newly compiled Irish Language Framework.

The research, carried out since the introduction of the 11 new councils, covered areas including bilingual street signs and Irish language policies and suggests that some councils are failing to comply with local and international treaties in relation to Irish language provision and support.